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CNN talks to Husband of Woman who was held Prisoner in Iran for Six Weeks; Antony Blinken: Today, their Freedom means Families can be Together Again; Antony Blinken: Freeing the Unjustly Detained is Priority for Biden Administration; Deal also Involves the Release of Five Iranians in U.S. Custody; American Prisoners Freed from Iran Arrive in Qatar. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 18, 2023 - 11:00   ET






LYNDA KINKADE, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome. I'm Lynda Kinkade coming to you live from Atlanta. You've been watching our breaking news coverage of

the release of five Americans from prison in Iran after years of what the U.S. cause wrongful detention. Take a look at this vision.

You can see them disembarking from a flight in Qatar's capital Doha last hour. My next guest knows all too well the anguish of waiting for a

detained loved one to be freed. Richard Ratcliffe is the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe; she was a prisoner in Iran for six years and finally

released 18 months ago. He joins me now from London. We appreciate your time today, Richard, thank you.


KINKADE: I want to get your reaction to the prisoner swap that we've seen take place today. But first, just to remind our viewers of what your wife

and you endured through all those years leading up to her release from Iran.

RATCLIFFE: Yes, so very similar to the three faces that we've just seen coming out of the plane there. Nazanin was picked up by Iran on a family

holiday back in 2016 and was held in Evin Prison which is the main prison in Tehran for five years and then was kept under house arrest for a period

after that, finally released back in the spring of 2022.


It's a part of a similar prisoner swap and, and transfer of funds from the UK to Iran, the Iranian funds that have been frozen. And yes, it was a long

horrible ordeal of ups and downs and horrible treatment, and then tremendous uncertainty. It brings back lots of memories to see them coming

off the plane. And, you know, the euphoria.

But also, the uncertainty at this point, I remember, you know, really not wanting to say anything, really not quite daring to believe that it's all

over. And, yes, you know, it's if for the prisoners, it takes a long time to feel safe again. So there'll be feeling very good at the moment and a

mixture of emotions.

But you know my heart goes out to all those families. And I've campaigned with them all. Nazanin has good friends from prison with all of the three

men. And it is lovely that all those families get to rebuild their lives again.

KINKADE: Yes, exactly. We did hear from one of the longest held one of the longest detained Americans Siamak Namazi who was detained back in 2015. He

was held in solitary confinement for some 27 months. And while in prison, he spoke to my colleague, Christiane Amanpour, I just want to play some of

that sound that speaks to the desperation he had.


SIAMAK NAMAZI, EVIN PRISON, IRAN: I keep getting told that I'm going to be rescued. And deals fall apart or I get left abandoned. Honestly, the other

hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us out, to finally hear our cry for help and bring us home. And I suppose desperate

times call for desperate measures.


KINKADE: And he was clearly nervous when he was ringing my colleague with that that updates that call. You yourself went on hunger strikes for your

wife, to keep her story alive, to keep the pressure on governments and diplomats to ensure that she would be released.

Talk to us about what these Americans will be feeling today and over the coming weeks and months in terms of what you saw unfold with your wife as

she dealt with finally being free after six years in prison in Iran?

RATCLIFFE: Yes, there's a lot, a lot is going to happen. I mean, I think that's right, you're right, that Siamak there were desperate and bleak. And

feeling like you know, this had gone on so long and no one was helping. And part of the job outside is to keep on the pressure. But it's also partly to

keep up the hope.

What tends to happen when someone can't work what happened with Nazanin when she came out, it takes a long time to feel safe. Again, the Iranian

regime is very cruel, and does some very terrible things to mess with your hand as well as with your body. And those don't magically go away.

And it takes a long time to decompress and to let go of the traumas, and we still get them. The nightmares will continue for a long time. People don't

like to talk about it, but they're there. And then also the thing that will be true for Siamak and for Murad and for --

KINKADE: Richard, I'm sorry to interrupt you for just a moment. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is speaking. If you can stand by for us,

Richard, I just want to go to this.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Years two others had been prevented from leaving Iran. I spoke to them after they landed in Doha. I

can tell you that it was for them, for me, an emotional conversation. It's easy in the work that we do every day, sometimes to get lost in the

abstractions of foreign policy and relations with other countries and forgetting the human element that's at the heart of everything we do.

But today, their freedom, the freedom of these Americans for so long, unjustly imprisoned and detained in Iran means some pretty basic things. It

means that husbands and wives, fathers and children, grandparents can hug each other again, can see each other again, can be with each other again.

So it's a day that I'm grateful for. I want to thank a number of partners who've been so vital to helping us reach this day, particularly our

partners in Amman, Switzerland, Qatar, The United Kingdom, each has played a very important role in enabling us to free our fellow citizens.


I'd also like to thank an extraordinary team, the State Department and throughout the United States government that has been working to achieve

this result for three years now. As happy as we are at the freedom of our fellow citizens, we also are thinking today, Bob Levinson, who is not among

them, and who is presumed deceased.

Bob's legacy, however, lives on it lives on powerfully in the Levinson Act, which has given us new and important tools to help crack down on and deter

the practice of taking Americans unlawfully to try to turn them into political pawns and to abuse the international system in that way.

One of the things that I heard in my conversation with, with our fellow citizens who are now free, is their own determination, their own

commitment, their own conviction, to continuing this work, to making sure that other Americans who are unjustly detained anywhere in the world come


To date, under this administration, we have now brought 30 Americans home, from places around the world where they were being unjustly detained, that

work will continue. At the same time, we're going to be working every single day, to take steps to make this practice more and more difficult,

and more and more of a burden on those countries that engage in it.

And you'll see in the days ahead here in New York, at the United Nations, our efforts to work with other countries to do just that, but for today,

for this moment, it's very good to be able to say that our fellow citizens are free, after enduring something that I think it would be difficult for

any of us to imagine that their families will soon have them back among them and that, in this moment, at least, I have something very joyful to


Finally, let me say that, throughout this effort, throughout the work we've done to bring so many other Americans home. President Biden has

demonstrated that he's prepared to make tough and difficult decisions. I have no higher priority.

The President has no prior higher priority and making sure that Americans who are unjustly detained anywhere can come home. And we'll continue that

work in the days ahead. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secretary, based on the successful detainees walk this week, will there be are you expecting any indirect talks we're hearing this

week? Anytime soon, we're not talking about direct talk that through an intermediary or -- relaying --

BLINKEN: Thank you. Well, two things. First, let me be very clear that this process and the engagements necessary to bring it about the freedom of

these unjustly detained Americans has always been a separate track in our engagement or, for that matter, lack of engagement with Iran.

So irrespective of what was happening, or not happening, for example, in pursuing the effort to return to the nuclear agreement, we've been focused

on working independently to bring these Americans home. So it doesn't speak to anything else in the relationship.

We continue to be determined to take whatever step is necessary to deal with actions by Iran and a whole host of areas that are profoundly

objectionable, and that many other countries find objectionable. At the same time, when it comes to perhaps the number one issue of concern, which

is Iran's nuclear program, we continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to get a sustainable effective result, one that we had previously

with the Iran nuclear agreement.

And we'll continue to see if there are opportunities for that in this moment. We're not engaged on that. But we'll see in the future if there are

opportunities. But President Biden has also been very clear that one way or another, he's committed to ensuring that Iran never acquired nuclear



BLINKEN: I wouldn't anticipate anything this week. We're focused today on the fact that these Americans are now free after having endured something

that I think most of us can't possibly imagine. In one case, one of our fellow Americans is in prison for eight years unjustly. And that's what

we're focused on for today.



BLINKEN: OK, thank you, in fact, when we, when we met with our GCC colleagues, our fellow Americans had not yet arrived in Doha, so we didn't

want to get ahead of that process. Having said that, as I mentioned, two countries, in particular, played an absolutely vital role in helping to get

us to this day, and that is Amman and Qatar.

As for the other members of the GCC, I've had occasion over the past many months to talk to them about the relationship with Iran, which is a

challenge for each and every one of them, including for us. And to discuss in that context, some of the efforts that we were making to bring home our

wrongfully detained Americans.

And again, I don't want to speak for them. But I think everyone is supportive of that, of that effort. With regard to the resources, I think

it's very important to be very clear about exactly what this involved. As you know, this involves the access by Iran to its own money, money that had

accumulated in Korean bank as the result of oil sales that Iran made, which were lawful at the time those sales were made.

And from day one, our sanctions have clearly and indeed, always exempt the use of resources for humanitarian purposes, because our aim is not to harm

the Iranian people. Our problem, our profound problem is with the Iranian regime. So from day one, these Iranian monies that were in a Korean bank

have always been available to Iran to use for humanitarian purposes.

But for a lot of technical reasons, they weren't able to access those funds where they were. So the funds were moved to another bank, where we have

absolute oversight of how they're used, and they can only be used for humanitarian purposes. And we have absolute confidence in the process and

the system that's been set up.

By the way, the previous administration, administration prior to ours had set up a similar mechanism that was never used, but exactly for these kinds

of purposes. So we're very confident that the funds the Iranian funds that had been made more easily available to Iran as a result of the actions that

we've taken will be used exclusively for humanitarian purposes. And we have the means and mechanisms to make sure that that happens.


BLINKEN: Thanks very much.

KINKADE: You have just been listening to at the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who spoke about his gratitude for the fact that these five

Americans could be released today from Iranian prison. He said that he also spoke about Bob Levinson. This is the American detained in Iran who is

likely to have been killed or died in custody.

And he said that the Biden Administration has worked to free 30 Americans wrongfully detained during the course of this administration. And we also

heard earlier that the Biden Administration will issue new sanctions following the release of those Americans targeting Iran's military of

intelligence as well as Iran's Former President Ahmadinejad.

Now, just before Antony Blinken spoke, I was speaking to Richard Ratcliffe. This is the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was held in prison in

Iran for some six years to get his perspective on the release of these prisoners today. He joins us again now, Richard, thanks so much for

standing by for us, we appreciate it.

We did hear the U.S. Secretary of State allude to other Americans wrongfully detained. And we know that there are two U.S. permanent

residents in detention in Iran wanting fear of execution. Is there any indication from the work you've done during the course of these

negotiations as to why they were not included in this deal today?

RATCLIFFE: You're right. I think it's really, really good that he mentioned them and just you know, we're saying listen, we've not forgotten. It's

really tough for their families to be left behind. And in fairness of those who are on the plane today, the Namazis and -- are both experience have

been left behind in previous releases. So it's always tough for the families that don't come on the plane to release are a tough, very good for

those that aren't tough for those who don't.


And it's always a scramble afterwards to scramble to work out. Well, why didn't I get included? Why didn't my dad why, you know, I'm not privy to

what was happening behind closed doors as to what were the pressures and the priorities. And that's a challenge for the diplomat.

So I think it is important that you say, well, one of those American nationals who is a permanent resident is not a citizen, one of the American

nationals is on death row. And I think it's important that the White House makes it really clear through authorities that they need assurances that he

is kept safe.

I think one of the most dangerous parts we've seen in the past year is the escalation of Iran's hostage diplomacy into execution diplomacy, and we've

seen two foreign nationals killed this year, one British one Swedish. I am not at all sanguine, as the way Iran has developed.

We've worked with lots of different families, those survivors out the other end, those still in the middle. It's not easy to deal with hostage

diplomacy. States have huge powers and the shift when you have states, you know, essentially using their powers in the ways that criminal gangs would

or terrorist gangs would.

It's very difficult. It's a -- Secretary of State Blinken is right, President Biden was right when they say we need to do need to, to change

the deterrence and to increase accountability of hostage taking, because it's only growing at the moment.

KINKADE: Yes, you make a really good point there, Richard. And I also want to ask you, we were speaking earlier about the trauma that some of these

prisoners would have enjoyed some of these Americans would have enjoyed during the time they were held in Iran.

A short time ago, we heard from the lawyer for Siamak Namazi, who was speaking to CNN about what he experienced. I just want to play some of that

sound from Jared Genser?


JARED GENSER, ATTORNEY FOR SIAMAK NAMAZI: Yes, I mean, it's not something that most people can actually imagine because we're just incapable of

understanding things that are outside of our frame of reference. You can't understand the inhumanity and cruelty of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,

not only to American hostages, but to their own people, on a, you know, on a gross, widespread and systematic scale.

And, you know, there's nothing that they won't do. One of the worst things that they did to Siamak was actually not even physically touching him. But

after his father had become a hostage, and he was shown videos of his father being taken into custody in the airport, a couple of weeks later,

they came in and told him that his father had died of a heart attack.

And we're very sorry; we're not going to be able to let you out of here in order to bury him. And they left him that way for one full week before they

came and told him that his father was still alive.


KINKADE: Do you kind of imagine the trauma and what was going through Namazi's mind as he was told that his father had been killed, only to find

out later that he was indeed alive. What sort of help are these Americans going to need to process what they've experienced as they when they return

to the states later today?

RATCLIFFE: I mean, that's exactly right, they will have been through such a profound cruelty, such a lot of gas-lighting and trickery and all sorts of

uncertainty and they will have been left doubting themselves and doubting their family and doubting everyone around them. And it will take a long

time to feel safe and to rebuild trust. And that doesn't happen overnight.

One of the things that the outside world can always do is to show patience and kindness and care. And you know, we will move forwards in baby steps. I

think they will need a chance to talk things through; they will need a chance or so not to talk things through sometimes.

And it can be overwhelming to come back from essentially having been locked in a room sometimes in solitary confinement for a long time to suddenly be

into a goldfish bowl and be put on the television and you know, asked to comment on things and asked to respond to other points of Iran's policy.

That's really hard. People don't expect to be celebrities. And it's an odd kind of celebrity you are when you're returning on stage, but it is one. So

they'll need time as a family to be together and to catch up with each other. Eight years in the numbers, this case is a very long time. But even

the short cases have been years.

Life moves on, one of the things about being a hostage is you live it day to day, you kind of suspend time, and then suddenly it's over. And, you

know, time hits you in the face and you realize that all relatives are older and you have to sort of step out of Battle Mode and television and

learn to reengage all the models of normality that we all have to deal with in life.

That'll come day by day and there'll be good days and bad days. And there'll be lots of nightmares and then there'll be less nightmares and it

won't be easy. And it will be the case that most of us, you know, including family members won't really understand what they've been through.

One of the things that are important is that network, the former hostages that can talk to each other as you can just understand, Nazanin can talk to

others that have been in Evin prison and understand who will understand her in a way that they couldn't possibly understand me.


So they're well networked. Jared is someone I know well, and he's been very good on a number of cases. But it will take time to heal.

KINKADE: Richard, just finally how is your wife doing today seeing these five Americans released from Iran?

RATCLIFFE: Yes, I mean, really happy for the families. So we know all the families well, and in fact, she went out to buy flowers for one of the

families that, you know, just really happy that someone that should have been on a plane with errors now, finally coming home.

And yes, it brings back memories, it brings back I mean, today is a happy day. Tomorrow is a happy day, probably for the families. Today is a bit of

an uncertain one. But yes, it is good to celebrate the good days when they come, because you know, there will be hard ones as well.

KINKADE: Richard Ratcliffe, we really appreciate your time and your perspective today. Thank you so much for joining us.

RATCLIFFE: Thank you.

KINKADE: We are going to take a quick break; we have much more ahead on our coverage, including a look at what the U.S. that Iran might hope to gain

politically from the release of prisoners in both countries. Stay with us, you're watching CNN.


KINKADE: Welcome back to "Connect the World", I'm Lynda Kinkade coming to you live from Atlanta. We have more on our top story. Five Americans who

the U.S. says were wrongfully detained for years in Iran and now in Qatar. Their flight from Tehran landed at the airport in Doha last hour.

This video is showing them exiting the plane. They're released as part of a complex deal that involves the U.S. freeing five detained Iranians and the

transfer to Qatar of $6 billion in Iranian funds that had been frozen in accounts in South Korea. The Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson laid out

the details of the financial transaction earlier.


NASSER KANAANI, SPOKESPERSON, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY: We managed to get the frozen assets unblocked in South Korea. So this amount of funds of the

Islamic Republic will be put at the disposal of the administration. And in proportion to our requirements, we will be spending that money. In relation

to some other funds that we have elsewhere in the world we will follow the same policy.



KINKADE: Well, Abas Asiani is an Iranian journalist and joins me now live from Tehran. Good to have you with us. I want to start with that question

as to the funds, because Iran says it will spend the unblocked funds based on the needs of the nation. It implies that the Raisi Administration will

spend funds however it sees fit.

But of course, part of the deal that the Americans well, you know, part of this deal was that these funds would only be used for humanitarian goods.

So explain for us how this deal is playing out in Tehran.

ABAS ASIANI, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST STRATEGIC STUDIES: Well as Iranian officials have said, and as well as American

officials, this amount of money will be used for non-sanctions, goods and commodities. And this can meet the Iranian needs, and that amount that was

not expected to be spent for you know strange commodities or something else.

And this is something Iran expected to have the access to that money in order to be able to spend it to buy commodities and goods, which have been,

have not been under sanctions. So they have not been expecting any problem to happen in the course of, you know, the use of this money. And this is

something which has been agreed by the both sides.

KINKADE: Of course, we know that the U.S. doesn't have diplomatic channels with Iran and other countries helped negotiate this deal. Of course, we

heard from whether, we heard from the U.S. as to whether this would be a reset of relations. I just want to play some sound right now. Just take a



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: As this marks this disagreement, do you see this or should anyone see this? Does it marking as an unfreezing of relations with

Iran in any way? Does this mark any change in the relationship?


with Iran's destabilizing behaviors. We've added to the military presence in the Gulf region. We have continued to sanction Iran, for other

destabilizing activities or still providing drones to Russia, for instance.

They're still posing a threat to maritime shipping in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz; we're going to hold them accountable for all of that. I

don't think we should look at this as some sort of confidence building measure to a better relationship with Iran.

Now look, if Iran takes steps to destabilize to stop their destabilizing behavior and to behave as a better actor in the region, all that's to the

good. But we secured this deal simply to secure this deal to get these five Americans home. It was not orchestrated as some way of reproach a



KINKADE: Right now we know that Raisi is in New York, the U.S. President Biden is also in New York. Is there any chance do you think that the two

would meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly?

ASIANI: Well, you know, Lynda, this was not expected this agreement to resolve other problems that was mostly focused on a specific issue, which

was releasing the Iran and American prisoners, as well as giving Iran access to its frozen money in South Korea. So as also the nuclear deal was

not intended to resolve all problems.

The point that the United States will be, you know, reacting to this agreement by imposing further sanctions against some Iranian officials

indicates and suggests that the Iran and U.S. problems cannot go overnight and just walk by one click. And we cannot expect something serious to be

happening between Iran and the United States directly in New York.

However, let's not forget that this can contribute to a process where a positive atmosphere can be created. In order to push other let's say this

further discussions on other issues, including the nuclear negotiations, as well as lifting Iran sanctions. And this can somehow if not revive the

nuclear deal itself, at least push the both sides in the direction of moving in order to fulfill some parts of the targets of the -- 215 nuclear


Iran wants the lifting of the sanctions, and the United States wants to limit Iran's nuclear program. And I think this agreement, if it's not able

to resolve all other problems, including the bilateral relations, which is non-existent, but it can help, you know, resolve other issues and bring a

kind of the escalation between the two sides.

KINKADE: There's certainly some criticism here in the U.S. from Republican lawmakers who say that the U.S. conceded too much in its deal. The U.S.

getting back five prisoners, Iran getting five prisoners back too.


But also this unfreezing of $6 billion in funds from an Iranian perspective, do you think Iran got the better end of the deal?

ASIANI: Well, you know, the prisoner swap is you know, you can look at that from a humanitarian perspective, but they access the Iranian money, let's

not forget that that's Iranian money. And there's not American money given to Tehran. It was Iranian money, which was frozen in South Korea; it was

the part of Iran's oil revenue.

And it is not something extra given to Tehran, but its own money, as it was stated by the Secretary of State, you know, a bit earlier. So that's why I

think that's a kind of fair agreement.

KINKADE: OK. Abas Asiani, you make some great points. We have to leave it there for now, but we do appreciate your time today. Thanks so much for

joining us from Tehran.

ASIANI: Thank you, Lynda. Good to be with you too.

KINKADE: And thank you for joining us for "Connect the World", I'm Lynda Kinkade. "One World" with Isa Soares is next.